I’ve just watched the fascinating Horizon programme that aired this week titled ‘Sugar v Fat’. The aim was to identify which of the two is most detrimental to our health. Twin presenters Chris and Xand van Tulleken took part in a month-long experiment, one ate sugary foods (e.g. carbs, fruit and sugary drinks) and the other just fat (e.g. eggs, meat, cream).
They talked to several experts including Robert H Lustig, MD who claimed that excess sugar is turned into fat in the liver causing a range of health problems. Lustig from the University of California is passionate about the subject, so much so that he has written the introduction to the 2012 edition of the book ‘Pure White and Deadly’ which was written in 1972 by John Yudkin who was one of the first scientists to claim that sugar was a major cause of obesity and heart disease.
I’m reading this book at the moment and am wondering why we didn’t heed his warning from 40 years ago, perhaps it’s because it was ignored by the majority of the medical profession and dismissed by the food industry.The Horizon Programme also looked at the problems with a high fat diet and studies that have proven that a high fat diet increases low density lipoproteins (LDL) also known as bad cholesterol, and their link to heart disease.
So, what did they find out as a result of the experiment?
- Fat suppresses hunger while sugar doesn’t, so you wouldn’t eat as much but you can exercise much more dynamically on sugar, than you can on fat.
- A scientist had discovered that rats have a natural cut-off mechanism when you fed them pure sugar or pure fat, however if you combined the two, there was no cut off, they kept eating and eating, and got fat. (The inference was that this may also apply to humans).
- The programme concluded that the 50/50 combination of fat and sugar was the most detrimental to health.
- It is worth noting that this combination doesn’t occur naturally it has to be manufactured.
- The programme cited doughnuts, ice-cream and cheesecake as examples of products with the 50/50 fat and sugar combo.
The body is a marvellous machine that in the short term has the capacity to generally adapt to whatever we throw at it, including diverse dietary conditions. Over the long term however bodily processes and functions may become impaired and this is when illness and diseases develop.
I really enjoyed the programme and although the experiment wasn’t robust enough to be able to give a definitive answer it certainly highlighted the impact food choices can have. Nutrition is a very complex subject and one that is fascinating to study.